Let's tackle a very common myth about Web writing. I see it all the time on freelance writing blogs and forums. There are people out there telling new or aspiring Web writers that the Web simply doesn't pay as much as print work does, and they need to get used to it. I've even seen the term "old school" tossed around referring to writers who don't buy into the "the Web's changing the writing world, and we just have to deal with the cutthroat competition" mentality. Um, no.
Here's the truth for you:
How much you get paid as a freelance writer has absolutely nothing to do with whether you write for print publications or online clients. That is determined by each individual market. And let's be frank. If you aren't earning as much as you feel you should be writing for the Web, that's not the Web's fault -- it's yours.
- YOU aren't targeting the right markets.
- YOU aren't setting appropriate rates.
- YOU are the one disrespecting your work by choosing to not be fairly compensated for it.
No one else is to blame. Not the clients advertising crap gigs that aren't in your market. Not all the overseas writers willing to work for a penny per word or less on those same jobs. Just you.
This is usually where I get a few people saying "you know, you're right and I need to try harder." And I often also get a few in the lazier "but low paying gigs are all I ever see advertised" crowd. If you find yourself in that latter group, we need to have a chat.
Freelance Writing Job Boards Might Be Holding You Back
If you get the bulk of your freelance writing job leads by trolling writing blogs, classified sites, and job boards, don't be surprised if you're usually only exposed to the lower end of the pay spectrum. That's what's usually advertised. You need to work a bit harder if you want higher paying work. No one's going to hand over the juicy gigs because you're too lazy to find them or still ignorant of where they are. You're in business. Knowing where your prospects are isn't optional. It's your job.
The funniest thing about this Web writing myth is that it's based on the easy to find gigs. But when it comes to print writing work, people seem to have no problem at all finding publications and pitching them. Why are they so much lazier on the Web? Perhaps they're just used to instant gratification. Well, sorry folks. It doesn't usually work that way -- at least not when you're starting out.
I've said this before (for years), and I'm sure I'll have to say it again:
Most of the best Web writing gigs are never publicly advertised!
Clients are just as aware of the low paying markets as you are. They know there are loads of bottom-of-the-barrel "writers" out there willing to work for next to nothing (and produce sub-par work in the process). They don't want those writers. They're also well aware that if they advertise in the same places those writers look for work, they'll be bombarded with offers from those unqualified freelancers, and it becomes more work for them. They clearly don't want that, and there's no reason they should have to deal with it.
Instead, higher paying Web writing clients either tend to advertise on more specialized job boards (although even that's fairly infrequent these days), they search for a freelance writer on their own, or they get referrals from others they trust. That, and once they find a gem of a writer, they tend to keep them busy with repeat work -- where hopefully most of your high paying Web writing work will ultimately come from.
So what can you do to catch the eye of these higher paying clients on the Web? It's not as difficult as you might think.
How to Land High Paying Freelance Writing Clients Online
I already mentioned how many clients with real budgets go about finding their freelance writers online. The rest is just a matter of logic. So let's look at each of those methods and see what you have to do if you want to break into professional writing markets online, and we'll also take a quick look at a more aggressive approach.
Landing Clients Who Search for Freelance Writers
One of the best things you can do for your freelance writing business is make your professional website search engine friendly. Yes, you have to worry about that icky little thing called SEO (but not in any sleazy way -- I promise). If you don't have a website yet, you have no excuse for that. If you can't manage your own Web presence, no client should be trusting you to manage theirs. Consider it your top portfolio piece as a freelance Web writer.
Target relevant keyword phrases that people are searching for. But don't make them so general that your competition is too broad and you'll likely never rank well early on -- you can always target broader keywords in time. For example, when I launched ProBusinessWriter.com I started out focusing on keyword phrases directly related to the domain name -- "pro business writer" and "professional business writer." I ranked well fairly quickly. As of today, I hold both the first and second positions in Google's search results for each of those terms (although rankings can change frequently).
Those aren't highly searched keyword phrases really, but they (and some other long tail search phrases) do bring in enough targeted traffic that I still get constant emails from prospects, even though I'm not taking on new clients. At the time, I didn't even bother targeting the phrase "business writer," because I knew it would take time to compete on something that broad, and I wanted to get some immediate attention drummed up. Now I'm even on the first results page for that, in the eighth position (although again, that can fluctuate up and down periodically).
Your own website can also greatly influence how much you can get paid for SEO writing. If you can't get your own site ranking well for targeted keywords and phrases, you show clients they should choose another writer who can. Again, to be frank -- if a client isn't checking this before hiring you to do SEO writing work, they're probably fairly incompetent. That's why you have big sites that will take nearly any writer (which pay crap) versus those who understand the combination of quality content and search rankings, who will pay handsomely for writers who can provide both.
This is an excellent way to get high paying clients, because once your site is ranking well organically there's really very little else you have to do to get these kinds of search-based inquiries. I find it also helps to post your rates (even if just ranges) publicly, and to have a portfolio on your site. If you don't, your competition will. And if their details satisfy the client's needs, they're probably not going to bother wasting time contacting you for rates and samples that might not.
Landing Clients Who Find Writers Through Referrals
There's no way around it. If you want the high paying Web writing gigs that are often landed through referrals, you have to build your professional network. But don't just network with prospects. Instead focus on networking with colleagues -- both those directly competing with you and those with other Web writing specialties.
Why? Well, remember how I said my website still brings in regular inquiries even though I'm not currently taking on new clients? Guess what happens to them. I refer those prospects to writers in my network. And I don't just refer them to anyone -- I refer them to people I can trust. If you build contacts with people who are already getting the high paying freelance writing work online, chances are good that they'll occasionally either subcontract work or refer it to others in their network. You want to be one of those people.
It's a good idea to make yourself stand out (but that doesn't mean asking them if they have referrals -- that's kind of obnoxious 90% of the time; 100% of the time if I don't know you extremely well). Blog. Comment on others' blogs. Use Twitter. Use LinkedIn. Join writing forums. Do what you need to do to get to know your colleagues.
You might be surprised how well-connected many of them are -- we don't generally spout our client lists and contacts publicly, because we don't want people poaching our gigs. But we will privately refer you to prospects and even our existing clients when they have a need for new writers.
For example, I have one client who tends to pay fairly well for blogging work. Not only have I referred four of All Freelance Writing's current contributors to articles for him at different times, but also one of our former contributors here (who still writes for me elsewhere), and Stacey Abler while I was coaching her (he happened to have a gig in a niche she was uniquely qualified to write in compared to others in my network). I have weeks where I might not have referrals to give out, and others where I could have a half dozen every other day or so. Other professional writers are often in similar boats. We can't always take on every project that comes our way, and we're happy to share the wealth.
Landing Web Writing Clients Who Don't Even Know They Need You
Those tactics are great if the client already knows they need a writer and they're looking for one. It's just about making yourself visible. But there are countless big budget clients out there who have no idea they need you -- at least not until you tell them!
If you see a website -- especially one for a company that you know is well-funded and capable of paying your set rates -- and the content or copy is atrocious, offer to spruce it up for them. Obviously you need to be tactful when you approach them, but plenty are oblivious to the fact that there are problems. If you can let them know gently, and pitch them on some edits, you might just be surprised. And that editing gig might just lead to new writing gigs with them in the future -- maintaining their blog (or setting one up for them if they don't have one yet), writing new copy for a new product launch, etc.
Another option is to find Internet marketing firms, SEO firms, or online PR firms. Pitch them with your freelance Web writing services too. Middlemen clients are great, because they can keep you busy with work from their own larger client base. Not a business writer? That's okay! They need feature articles, blog posts, SEO Web content -- just about anything you can imagine writing-wise.
If you were one of those people who bought into the myth that Web writing naturally pays less than print writing, it's time to wake up. Web writing is what you make of it (just like print writing where you probably wouldn't work for one of those cheap-ass publications paying with copies). Settle or succeed? That is up to you.
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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.
She owns 3 Beat Media -- a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.
Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.
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